Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-6


Paul moved from doctrine to practice, from the truth to its application in daily living. He began this next major section of the epistle by setting forth a basic principle. Then he explained the proper method of living. This led him to discuss the Christian’s fundamental relationships. He concluded this section by summarizing the essential practice.

C. The fundamental relationships 3:18-4:1

Paul next set forth certain principles to guide his readers in their most important interpersonal relationships. Geisler saw this section as containing exhortations to perfect the private life (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1), the prayer life (Colossians 4:2-4), and the public life (Colossians 4:5-6). He also saw Colossians 4:7-18 as expressing Paul’s concern to perfect the personal lives of the Colossian believers. [Note: Geisler, "Colossians," p. 683.] Paul wrote this instruction to enable the readers to understand what behavior is consistent with union with Christ in these relationships. This is one of several "house-rule" lists in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:1-10; 1 Peter 2:18 to 1 Peter 3:7). The writings of some Apostolic Fathers also contain such lists. [Note: See O’Brien, Colossians . . ., pp. 214-19, for a discussion of them.] Luther referred to these sections as haustafel, and some scholars still use this technical term when referring to these lists.

". . . the earliest churches were all ’house churches’ (see on Colossians 4:15), so that the model of the well-run household provided precedent for the well-run church . . ." [Note: Dunn, p. 245.]

The apostle grouped six classes of people in three pairs in the following verses. In each pair he first addressed the subordinate member and then the one in authority. Bear in mind that Paul was speaking to people who are in Christ in each case.

"The Christian ethic is an ethic of reciprocal obligation. It is never an ethic on which all the duties are on one side." [Note: Barclay, p. 192.]

3. Slaves and masters 3:22-4:1 (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9; ; 1 Peter 2:18-25)

Verse 1

Masters should remember that they have a Master too. This view should transform how they regard and treat their slaves. Interestingly throughout history wherever Christians have constituted a significant segment of the population and have followed Paul’s directions here, the slave system has died. The principles in these verses (Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1) are, of course, applicable to employer-employee relationships as well. [Note: Ellis, p. 1344.]

William Webb offered an extensive discussion of how to apply these instructions. [Note: William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals.] I do not agree with his "redemptive-movement hermeneutic," or what I would call a "trajectory hermeneutic," because I believe it is subjective, though I believe he offers some helpful suggestions. [Note: See Wayne Grudem, "Should We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:2 (June 2004):299-346, for a longer analysis of Webb’s book with similar criticisms as mine.]

The fact that the word "Lord" occurs frequently (seven times) in Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1 highlights the importance of applying the lordship of Christ in all our interpersonal relationships.

"It should be remembered that, while all Christians are on the same level in the Lord, there are still spheres in which subordination must be recognized. In fact, there are four spheres in which believers live: (a) in Christ; (b) in the household; (c) in the church; (d) in the state. In Christ there is no difference between Jew and Greek, bond and free, or male and female (Galatians 3:28). In the household, while there is intrinsic spiritual equality, there are distinctions. The husband is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), and children are to obey both (Ephesians 6:1; cf. Colossians 3:20), the Lord being the supreme illustration (Luke 2:51). The slave, too, is to be subject to his master (Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18). In the church all are subject to the oversight of the elders (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:7), and to the Lord (Ephesians 5:24). In the state even the believers, although God’s children and heavenly citizens, are subject to the secular authorities and earthly statutes (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13)." [Note: Johnson, 482:109-10. See E. Glenn Hinson, "The Christian Household in Colossians 3:18-4:1," Review and Expositor 70:4 (Fall 1973):495-506.]

Verse 2

The most important practice to perpetuate in relation to God is prayer. That is so because in prayer we call on God to work, and we express our faith in Him. Throughout this epistle Paul’s emphasis has been on the believer’s union with Christ and the complete adequacy that that union produces. The Christian who does not pray is demonstrating independence from God (cf. John 15:5). It is only as we ask God to work that He will accomplish many things (James 4:2). Consequently Paul urged his readers to devote themselves to prayer, to give it constant attention and priority. Perhaps the main problem we face when we do pray is concentration. Therefore Paul reminded his readers to keep alert in prayer and to express gratitude always in view of God’s goodness and grace to them. [Note: See Howard Tillman Kuist, "Zest for Prayer," Theology Today 11 (1954):48-52; and Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 65-66.]

"This is like breathing: inhale by prayer, exhale by thanksgiving." [Note: McGee, 5:363.]

The repeated emphasis on thanksgiving makes this epistle one of the most "thankful" books in the New Testament (cf. Colossians 1:3; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2).

"The accompanying exhortation to ’keep awake, be on the alert’ (gregoreo) is drawn from the imagery of guard duty (Nehemiah 7:3; 1 Maccabees 2:27; Mark 14:34; Mark 14:37) . . ." [Note: Dunn, p. 262.]

Verses 2-6

D. The essential practice 4:2-6

Paul concluded his exhortations concerning Christian living with instructions pertaining to three essential practices for those in Christ. He wanted to impress their importance on his readers. One exhortation dealt with his readers’ relationship to God, another dealt with their relationship to other people, and the third looked self-ward.

Verses 3-4

Paul requested his readers’ intercession for two matters in particular. He asked them to pray that God would give him and his companions opportunities for evangelism and edification. He also asked that when these came he would be able to present the gospel clearly. [Note: C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles . . ., p. 132.] "The mystery of Christ" (Colossians 4:3; Colossians 1:26-27) is the gospel. Paul had greater concern about getting the gospel out than he had with getting himself out of prison.

Verse 5

With respect to his readers’ relationship to unbelievers, Paul counseled the use of wisdom as most important. This involves living life in the light of God’s revelation and then applying this knowledge to specific situations (Colossians 1:9). The Greek word translated "opportunity" (kairos, lit. time) probably implies the opportune time, as it does in some other places. The opportunity in view seems to be the opportunity to bring others into full union with Christ (cf. Colossians 4:3).

Verse 6

Paul turned from thinking about his readers’ walk to their talk. The most important thing to keep in mind regarding the Colossians’ own practices involved their speech. Speech most effectively expresses what is inside the believer. The Christian’s speech should mirror the gracious character and conduct of his or her God by demonstrating love, patience, sacrifice, undeserved favor, etc. Salt probably represented both attractiveness, since salt makes food appealing, and wholesomeness, since salt was a preservative that retarded corruption in food (cf. Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50; Ephesians 4:29). Furthermore one should wisely suit his or her speech to each need. The words "seasoned with salt" refer to witty speech in classical Greek, but Paul probably meant attractive and wholesome speech in view of other biblical uses of the term salt. [Note: Johnson, 484:314-15.]

"A child of God should have a conversation that deters evil. It should withhold evil rather than promote it. I think it also means that a Christian should not be boring." [Note: McGee, 5:363.]

These three exhortations in Colossians 4:2-6 are extremely important and deserve more attention from Christians than they normally receive. [Note: See James P. Sweeney, "The Priority of Prayer in Colossians 4:2-4," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:635 (July-September 2002):318-33; and idem, "Guidelines on Christian Witness in Colossians 4:5-6," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:636 (October-December 2002):449-61.]

Verses 7-8

Paul sent Tychicus with this letter for two primary purposes. He wanted to provide more information about himself and his present ministry than he felt led to record in this letter. He also wanted to encourage the Colossians. In relation to all other Christians Tychicus was a beloved brother. In relation to Christ he was a faithful servant. In relation to Paul he was a fellow-bondslave either both as a prisoner of Rome and to the will of God, or just to the will of God. Tychicus’ name occurs five times in association with Paul in the New Testament (Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12).

"Someone has said that the greatest ability in the world is dependability, and this is true." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:149.]

Verses 7-9

A. The bearers of this epistle 4:7-9

Verses 7-18


Paul concluded this epistle with personal information and instructions. He did this to bond his readers more tightly to the body of Christ from which they were in danger of separating due to the influence of the false teachers.

Verse 9

Onesimus had been a slave in the household of Philemon and a member of the Colossian church, had run away to Rome, and Paul had led him to Christ there. Paul sent him back to Colosse with Tychicus, not in chains but as a beloved brother in Christ who had proved himself faithful (cf. Phile.).

These men traveled from Rome to Colosse, probably by way of Ephesus and Laodicea, with the epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21-22). They probably also carried one to the Laodiceans (cf. Colossians 4:16), and the epistle to Philemon (Philemon 1:23-24), as well as this epistle.

Verse 10

Aristarchus came from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4), had been with Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), and had accompanied him to Rome (Acts 27:2). "Prisoner" (Colossians 4:10) is the translation of an unusual Greek word (lit. prisoner of war). It probably means prisoner to the will of God rather than prisoner of Caesar (cf. Philemon 1:23). [Note: Carson, p. 98.]

John Mark (Acts 12:25) had rejoined Paul after their separation during Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:5; Acts 13:13). The Colossians knew his cousin Barnabas better. This Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name (cf. 2 Timothy 4:11).

"John Mark is an encouragement to everyone who has failed in his first attempts to serve God. He did not sit around and sulk. He got back into the ministry and proved himself faithful to the Lord and to the Apostle Paul." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:150.]

Verses 10-14

B. Greetings from Paul’s companions 4:10-14

Paul mentioned six individuals, five of whom he also named in Philemon.

Verse 11

Jesus Justus’ name occurs only here in the New Testament. These three men were Jewish Christians as is clear from their names. By mentioning them Paul helped the Colossians realize that what he had written about Jews and Gentiles being equal in Christ was a reality in his ministry. The "kingdom of God" here probably refers to the domain over which Christ presently rules in contrast to Satan’s domain (cf. Colossians 1:13).

Verses 12-13

The following three fellow-workers had Gentile backgrounds. Epaphras had evidently been instrumental in the founding of the church at Colosse (Colossians 1:7). His concern for the Colossians is clear from his zealous prayers for their maturity and their full perception of God’s complete will for them. These concerns are the burden of this epistle. Epaphras’ fervent agonizing in prayer (cf. Luke 22:44) reflects his understanding that God would provide illumination and continued growth in proportion as people requested these of Him (James 4:2). This is spiritual work that only God can do. Epaphras’ concern for the Christians in the other towns near Colosse suggests the possibility that he evangelized these communities too.

"Epaphras holds the unique distinction among all the friends and co-workers of Paul of being the only one whom Paul explicitly commended for his intensive prayer ministry. The passage quoted above [Colossians 4:12-13] may well be called his diploma of success in this ministry." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Working With God: Scriptural Studies in Intercession, p. 77.]

"Epaphras grasped, what many of us are slow to realize, that the tactics of the Christian battle are born of the strategy of prayer." [Note: Harrington C. Lees, St. Paul’s Friends, p. 157.]

"There are many things outside the power of ordinary Christian people, and great position, wide influence, outstanding ability may be lacking to almost all of us, but the humblest and least significant Christian can pray, and as ’prayer moves the Hand that moves the world,’ perhaps the greatest power we can exert is that which comes through prayer." [Note: W. H. Griffith Thomas, Christ Pre-Eminent, p. 191.]

"It is related of an old pastor who every Saturday afternoon could be seen leaving his study and entering the church house by the back door, and about sundown he would be seen going home. Someone’s curiosity was aroused enough to follow one day and watch through a window. It was in the days when the family pew was an institution of the church. The old pastor was seen to kneel at each pew and pray for every member of the family that was to occupy it on the Lord’s Day. He called each member by name as he poured out his heart to God for his flock. His was a ministry of power and his people reflected the grace of God upon them. Blessed is that church which has such a praying shepherd." [Note: Hiebert, p. 83. See also idem, "Epaphras, Man of Prayer," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:541 (January-March 1977):54-64.]

Verse 14

Paul identified Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and Acts, only as a physician.

"At this time medicine was only just becoming a subject of systematic instruction." [Note: Dunn, p. 283. See The Oxford Classical Dictionary, s. v. "Medicine," p. 662.]

Luke would have been both physically and spiritually helpful to Paul. Demas later forsook Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), but at this time he was ministering to and with the apostle.

Verse 15

In addition to the neighboring Laodicean Christians, Paul sent greetings to Nympha, possibly the hostess of a Laodicean house-church. There is no evidence that Christians met in church buildings until the third century. [Note: Lightfoot, p. 241.] The early Christians seem to have chosen their meeting places on the basis of convenience and expediency.

Verses 15-17

C. Greetings to others 4:15-17

Verse 16

Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans was probably not an inspired one and has evidently been lost (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9). This seems more likely than that Paul was referring to the Epistle to the Ephesians here. [Note: For discussion of this theory, see the introductions to the New Testament and commentaries on Ephesians 1:1.]

Verse 17

Archippus seems to have been Philemon’s son (Philemon 1:2). Perhaps he was a gifted young man whom Paul wished to encourage. The idea that he was the present leader of the Colossian church is a possibility that some commentators have suggested.

Verse 18

D. Paul’s personal conclusion 4:18

Paul normally used a secretary to write his letters and then added a personal word at the end in his own handwriting to authenticate his authorship (cf. Romans 16:22; Galatians 6:11). Here he requested his readers’ prayers for him in his house arrest in Rome (cf. Colossians 4:3-4). Finally he wished that God’s continuing unmerited favor would be their portion (cf. Colossians 1:2).

Why did Paul include so many personal references to friends and acquaintances in this epistle? Perhaps he had never visited these Christians and they knew him only by reputation (cf. Colossians 2:1). Probably since he had lived and ministered in Asia Minor for three years he would have had personal contact with some of the saints in Colosse. Evidently he sent many personal greetings because he had many friends in Colossae. Paul also sent many personal greetings to the Christians in Rome though he had not yet visited Rome when he wrote his epistle to them (cf. Romans 16).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Colossians 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/colossians-4.html. 2012.
Ads FreeProfile